The Obama administration has leapt into action to respond to the growing crisis of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster, which killed 11 workers and left a West-Virginia-sized oil spill in the Gulf Coast. But in the weeks before the calamity, President Barack Obama promoted his initiative to expand offshore drilling as “not risky” and repeated the conservative myth that Hurricane Katrina did not cause any oil rig spills. At a town hall meeting in South Carolina on April 2, the president was challenged that his “decision to allow offshore drilling could have the effect of chilling investment into alternate sources of energy.” While recognizing that “energy efficiency and renewable, clean energy” is his “biggest priority,” Obama also defended offshore drilling:
I don’t agree with the notion that we shouldn’t do anything. It turns out, by the way, that oil rigs today generally don’t cause spills. They are technologically very advanced. Even during Katrina, the spills didn’t come from the oil rigs, they came from the refineries onshore.
This is incorrect.
Eighteen days later, the Deepwater Horizon rig operated by BP America 41 miles of the Louisiana coast exploded. The giant spill has not yet reached the beaches of the Gulf Coast, and there is a chance the damage can be limited by setting some of the oil ablaze.
Obama’s claim that oil rigs did not cause any spills during Hurricane Katrina is simply false, as the Wonk Room reported in June, 2008, when Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and other conservatives made the same false claim:
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita Caused 124 Offshore Spills For A Total Of 743,700 Gallons. 554,400 gallons were crude oil and condensate from platforms, rigs and pipelines, and 189,000 gallons were refined products from platforms and rigs. [MMS, 1/22/07]
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita Caused Six Offshore Spills Of 42,000 Gallons Or Greater. The largest of these was 152,250 gallons, well over the 100,000 gallon threshhold considered a “major spill.” [MMS, 5/1/06]
On April 23, three days after the rig caught fire, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama’s support for offshore drilling was unchanged.